Peter Berg excels at a kind of hyper competence, where his films are technically extremely well made and impressive but which lack subtext or critical thinking. I often hate his films even though I have to grant that they always have exceptional production values. But this one is (a little) different. I think this is probably the best movie he’s made. (Of the ones I’ve seen, obviously.)
As I said, Berg is nothing if not competent and this is a very well made movie. The only technical complaint I have is one I’m not sure too many directors could have solved. Every in this movie is good: the story is compelling, the performances are uniformly, good, everything looks good, the pace is so quick the movie just flies by and the tension is palpable. This is a well made film that works very well.
Things go a little off the rails once the trouble starts. It gets kind of confusing with all the mud, oil and fire everywhere. As I hinted before, I’m not sure anyone could have handled it better, but much of what works prior to the explosion doesn’t work as well when everything is dark. But, as I said, I’m not sure a better filmmaker would have made this work better or perhaps somebody good at this part wouldn’t might not have been so good at the set up.
My problem with this film is something different: all Berg wants to do is tell the story of the people on the rig during the time up to and during the accident. He couldn’t care less about anything else. He has characters pay lip service to the idea that cutting costs and pressure to finish the job might have caused the accident, but he really isn’t interested in systemic causes for such a disaster or much of anything else. This film is profoundly uninterested in anything other than the immediate event.
So it’s an entertaining movie. And it’s well made. But it doesn’t get the audience thinking at all. And I think that’s a huge missed opportunity.